U.S. House appropriators boost SRF, threaten WIFIA U.S. House of Representatives appropriators are proposing a significant boost in funding for the drinking water state revolving fund program (SRF) but are also proposing to cripple the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) in fiscal year 2021. In a draft funding bill released this week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environmental, and Related Agencies would provide $5 billion for the SRF - quadruple its current funding. This bill also includes $520 million to support projects that reduce lead in drinking water and $76 million for voluntary programs to test lead levels in schools and childcare facilities. However, the bill also would rescind all unobligated WIFIA funds from before FY2020 and make only those funds available for 2021. Funds are considered unobligated until a loan is closed. There are 14 loan applications in progress using FY2018 funds and 34 applications in progress using FY2019 funds. This language, if enacted, means those applicants would have to restart the application process to obtain a WIFIA loan. Under WIFIA, those interested in a loan first submit a letter of interest. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzes that document, then invites interested utilities or communities to proceed to the formal application phase if EPA is virtually certain the applicant will receive the loan. This appears to be an attempt to force these projects to go through a new application scrutiny process agreed to by EPA, the Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office and the Department of the Treasury on June 30. AWWA has communicated to legislators that this new process appears unwarranted and an assertion of authority over the WIFIA program by some federal agencies beyond what Congress intends. In addition, the bill would provide only $1 million to administer the WIFIA program, crippling administration of the program. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued a press release Thursday recommending that President Trump veto this bill if it appears on his desk, saying the authors “completely gutted the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), a popular loan program which has provided nearly $12 billion in water infrastructure projects and created 25,000 jobs under President Trump. Since the onset of the pandemic, WIFIA has saved taxpayers over a billion dollars while continuing to move critical infrastructure projects forward in cities including: San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, Miami, FL, Cortland, NY, Wichita, KS, and numerous other cities across the country.” AWWA and other water associations are drafting a joint letter further expressing their concerns to House and Senate appropriators and to committees with policy jurisdiction over WIFIA. Two more WIFIA loans close EPA recently announced it had closed two more loans under the WIFIA program, to North Miami Beach for $44.1 million and to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for $513.8 million. The San Francisco utility is the WIFIA program’s second repeat borrower. The North Miami Beach project will upgrade its water main distribution system and existing treatment and auxiliary systems at the Norwood Water Treatment Plant. San Francisco will use its loan to replace two outdated headworks treatment facilities with a new centralized preliminary treatment facility and support additional upgrades to aging and seismically vulnerable facilities. As part of the negotiations of this second WIFIA loan, EPA and the utility also re-executed the previous loan agreement at a lower interest rate, an action EPA says will save ratepayers an additional $432 million over the life of the loan. EPA has scheduled two webinars on WIFIA. At 2-3:30 p.m. ET on July 14, the agency will present a webinar for utilities on eligibility, application process, submitting a letter of interest and being selected for funding. At 2-3:30 p.m. ET on July 21, the agency will provide a webinar on a new, similar program for state agencies . State PFAS management efforts continue Ohio and California state agencies are continuing efforts to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Last week, Ohio EPA continued collecting samples from more than 1,500 public water systems to test for PFAS contamination. The agency kicked off the effort in February but suspended sampling in March as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. The testing is an objective of Ohio’s PFAS Action Plan and includes PFBS, PFHxS, PFOA, PFOS, PFNA and GenX. Sampling results are being reported and compared with the state’s action levels in mind. California state agencies also have continued investigative efforts to address PFAS. In addition to current drinking water monitoring orders, the state is issuing orders this year to expand monitoring to other potential sources in the environment, including wastewater treatment plants, oil refineries and bulk terminals, etc. To support these investigative efforts, the state has developed risk-based Environmental Screening Levels (ESLs) for PFOA and PFOS. Several ESLs were developed based on media and exposure route. The ESLs for direct exposure to humans through groundwater were aligned with the notification levels in drinking water (6.5 ppt PFOS and 5.1 ppt PFOA). Chlorine gas label revisions progressing EPA intends to finalize its proposed interim decision this fall as part of its lengthy federal pesticide re-registration process for chlorine gas. The agency recently closed a public comment period on the rule. In moving forward, EPA plans to request data from chlorine gas manufacturers, then make significant changes in pesticide label instructions under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Importantly for water systems, label instructions for both water and wastewater chlorine gas applications will be more closely aligned with Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act requirements. EPA is also proposing that because of the care already used in managing chlorine gas in the sector, and existing operator training practices, restricted-use pesticide provisions being applied to other chlorine gas users will not be applied to water or wastewater treatment. If the past is an indication of future progress in this proceeding, label changes remain three or more years away, but they are coming. EPA’s proposed approach aligns with the agency’s revisions to hypochlorite labels and are consistent with AWWA’s comments to this docket. EPA challenged by implementation of lead-free rule EPA has found issuing final regulations for the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA) a challenge. The act became law in January 2011 and its aim was to significantly reduce the levels of lead allowed in plumbing components that come in contact with potable water. The agency published a proposed rule in January 2017 and received more than 25,800 comments. The final rule has been awaiting action at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review since December 2019. The statutory deadline for complying with the new provisions occurred in 2014, so water systems and plumbing manufacturers are well along in establishing practices to comply with the RLDWA . The Trump Administration designated reducing childhood lead exposure as a high priority activity in its Federal Action Plan , so we expect that when OMB completes its review, EPA will release a pre-publication copy of the rule as soon as other internal administrative processes can be completed. EPA also continues to target “summer” for release of the final Lead and Copper Rule. EPA releases financial tool for utilities dealing with pandemic EPA this week released a downloadable tool to help water utilities assess the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their operations. The tool – developed by the agency’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center – leads water utilities through a series of questions that can determine how their revenues, expenses and cashflow have been affected. EPA states that it is not collecting the data entered by users nor the results. The agency plans to send a separate survey to ask randomly selected utilities related information in the future. “It’s important for water utilities to understand – as early as possible – how to carry out their responsibilities and plan reinvestment for their communities as local economies start to recover from COVID-19,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a press release . “This tool will support the financial resilience of water utilities today and into the future by providing in-depth insight into how operations during COVID-19 have affected their financial standing.” The agency noted that many utilities expect revenue losses due to reduced commercial consumption, households unable to pay their bills and deferred or cancelled rate increases. Agency officials also pointed to concerns over increased costs related to overtime wages, personal protective equipment purchases and increased demand on customer assistance programs. The tool follows a report commissioned by AWWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies by Raftelis that found the pandemic would have a $15-billion financial impact on drinking water utilities.